3 Signs You’re Rushing To Quick-Fix KPIs

July 14, 2015 by Stacey Barr

A post from Guest author Martin Klubeck, author of Metrics: How to Improve Key Business Results.

“Have Patience. All things are difficult before they become easy” – Saadi

Building Performance Measures that are meaningful requires work. When I find customers looking for the easy way out I know I have an uphill battle. It’s usually a sign that they aren’t serious yet about using measures to improve performance. Here are three signs that they aren’t quite ready.

martin klubeck in blue shirtAsking For Canned Metrics

It’s funny how people think if something’s free it must not be worth anything. If I offer a free seminar, there are a decent amount of people who won’t attend because they don’t think it’s even worth their time… simply because it’s free.

But these same people want someone to hand them a canned set of metrics. The problem is obvious to the workforce but for some reason it alludes management.

Canned metrics can’t provide insights to your particular performance. If you go with measures which are generic and high level enough to be meaningful to everyone, chances are they won’t be useful to anyone.

Ensure that you are clearly defining your need and not providing a solution that is simpler than it should be. You need to define your particular needs. You need to grow your own metrics to ensure you are getting the most benefit out of your crop.

Asking For Data. Especially Because They Think It May Be “Interesting.”

When a manager asks for data, the hairs on my arms stand up and I get a cold chill.

Not because I am worried that I won’t have the data, but because data rarely tells a full story. And I have yet to find anyone who asks for the exact data they need to answer their questions. If someone is asking for data, they are usually fishing in the “Big Data” ocean, hoping to find what they need with as little work as possible.

So, when a manager asks for data I know I have my work cut out for me. I have to first convince them that they don’t want what they are asking for. You’re starting from a deficit. Even if you get them to agree to back up and work on identifying the story they really want, at the first sign of effort they may want to slide back toward data.

Cherishing Eternal Measures

My last example is the attempt to build a metrics program which will last forever. The idea is to create a robust, all-encompassing, perfect set of measures which will never have to change. OK, that’s not usually the stated goal – but it’s what it comes down to. This is easily identified in measures which never change and are never thrown away.

When I’m asked to publish a set of measures for the organization, invariably I am handed a set of existing measures which should be included. Even if I battle past the idea of canned metrics and interesting data – I can’t seem to get past the eternal measures. Even if we build some meaningful measures which tell the right story, I still have to fight against including measures that have “stood the test of time.”

That may be the best hint that the measures are “eternal” – when a customer thinks they have stood the test of time, chances are the measures are no longer doing what they should. The world, technology, work processes, and skills all change rapidly. If the questions you had years ago are still the questions you have today… there may be a problem. If the story your measures told in the past are still the stories you need to hear today – you may have missed a few major evolutionary events. Measures are not supposed to last forever.

Measures should help you change. They should help you predict the upcoming need to change, tell you how well you are doing with adapting to the change, and give you insights to how you will do in the future. That’s not possible if they are the same measures you used to get to where you were five years ago.

DISCUSSION:

Canned metrics, asking for data, and trying to create measures that will last forever are three of the most common indicators I’ve found that leadership is trying to take the easy way out. What are some of the clues you’ve noticed?

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  1. Peter Ndaa says:

    I have come across a fourth category, the “handed down measures” which normally come from the board or a regulator or in the public sector, from the parent ministry of a government agency. Leadership tend to focus on these measures because that’s what is used to judge their performance and subsequently as the basis for renewal of employment contracts.

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Hi Peter (everyone, Peter is our licensed PuMP Consultant for Eastern Africa). Pete, I agree – this is another sign of looking for a quick-fix, driven by fear.

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